Are we wearing blinders as we drive towards increased teacher quality?
“I want to be a teacher. Do you have any advice?” I hear this often, especially from people considering teaching as a second career. Having entered the field 12+ years ago myself as a “non-traditional” candidate (in New Jersey it’s known as “the Alternate Route to teaching,”) I certainly do have opinions to share. It’s something I think about quite a bit. The teaching profession has changed dramatically in the years I’ve been in the classroom, and the requirements for new teachers are under review here in my home state and elsewhere across the nation. I’m absolutely for high standards and investing in new candidates. Who wouldn’t be? That said, I wonder … are we missing something when selecting and developing future teachers?
The news story that gave me the idea for this post is: “NJ wants to adopt more rigorous standards for teacher candidates,” NJ.com, http://goo.gl/dCqwxG. The state’s proposal (available here: http://goo.gl/vbqYHw) is extremely well reasoned and lays out a comprehensive strategy to clarify and strengthen requirements for all new teachers regardless of their path to certification - traditional means or alternate route. Higher required GPAs, additional hours of improved pre-service with required classroom experience, and longer processing durations in general will certainly result in higher quality teachers in classrooms AND dissuade some from applying or cause others to abandon the effort once they’ve started. But, will these changes result in the right people leaving - and the right people staying?
Teacher turnover has been studied in depth for years (see: “Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us,” Education Week, http://goo.gl/gjcHBX). Interestingly, the oft-quoted statistic - that 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years - is being challenged. The Center for American Progress published an article, “Despite Reports to the Contrary, New Teachers Are Staying in Their Jobs Longer (http://goo.gl/zPgGJK), stating the number is actually much lower, closer to 30%. (While certainly an improvement, I think a business executive looking at 30% turnover rates in his organization or industry would be extremely concerned - however, in the field of education, it’s considered a positive trend.) But, I digress...
Every educator knows that teaching is hard emotional, intellectual and physical work - much harder than most non-teachers realize - and it’s not getting any easier. More stringent entry requirements will help ensure those seeking licensure will be stronger academically and better prepared intellectually once they enter the classroom. Hard to argue with that logic. I just wonder where “soft” difficult-to-measure qualities like passion and grit fit into the equation.
Edutopia blogger and classroom teacher extraordinaire Vicki Davis (CoolCatTeacher) likes to say “Teaching is a calling.” She’s right. Successful teachers bring deep expertise in a content area as well as excellent academic preparation to a classroom, but, in my view at least, they view teaching as much more than a job. They’re passionate. They are quietly tenacious. They have grit. They are emotionally intelligent. They have an insatiable need to keep moving forward every day. They know how to celebrate small wins, they have the energy to power through increasing amounts of non-instructional administrivia, and they’re committed to their students and to their profession. As states raise standards for teachers, how do these qualities factor into the equation?
Every profession wants to hire “the best and brightest.” Higher academic standards and more comprehensive field experience will help ensure new teachers have the intellectual and interpersonal horsepower they need for success in the classroom, but, someone, somewhere, should make sure these candidates have passion (and grit), too. Otherwise, those shiny new hires will eventually find other careers to pursue. We can’t let that happen!
What can we do to help our newest colleagues stay with us once they become teachers?
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.